Like every other “school”, the Sunday school also needs to prepare and groom the young ones for life. The Church needs workers functioning in different capacities in it. Whatever ‘call’ each person receives, it has to be illuminated in the context of the concerns of the Church. Stories of the saintly monks in Christian monasticism, and those of martyrs, can really inspire the young people; and instill in them a sense of purpose in life. In many ways, a Christian is an “apostle.” Every person has to fulfill certain divinely assigned responsibilities. The Church is never a worldly institution, running after power and money; and has to “show” that in its life. Young people, being idealistic, shall be attracted by a serving and suffering Church!
The onus of communicating the Christian ‘message’ to our children rests mainly with the Sunday school teachers, who are actually engaged in the “teaching mission” of the Church. Hence, they always need to entertain such a vision based on a rare sense of dedication. The Guru, here, is not a formal and professional individual, but a parent and mentor to the pupils. The life of the Guru counts a lot; since, as different from the secular school, the Sunday school in concerned about the meaning of life and the ultimate destiny of humanity. It shall always remain attached to the local parish church and the celebrations of the sacraments. The holy Bible, the writings of the Fathers and the holy Liturgy, shall serve as a bridge between the life of students in the community and their “citizenship” in heaven.
Therefore, the Sunday school cannot afford to be drudgery for the students; it has to appeal to the mind and conscience of the learners. Of course, this is achieved through lessons, exercises and practical experiences in the church and the community. It thus becomes very obvious that the teaching ministry of the Church is shared by the liturgical activities in the church, and the dynamic uninterrupted functioning of the Sunday school. So, every parish has to provide for the Sunday school in the best manner possible.
One serious handicap with our Sunday school practice, is lack of proper space, and adequately trained teachers. The latter issue is partly solved by the in-service programmes and the new orientation in the curriculum of the two terminal classes. There are only very few parishes, which can provide an “educational space” for conducting classes. This malady is not easy to be corrected. Each parish has to plan and provide a proper space and an educational environment for the Sunday school. The space and physical provisions in today’s Sunday school classes largely fail to convey the message that it is also a school; and thus attract the children towards it. This larger issue shall be addressed at some point, in order to make our church education programme more fruitful and relevant
A Brief History of the Sunday School in the Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church lays great emphasis and importance in educating children with the values of Christian life, the contents of the Bible and the Church history. The “Koonenkurish Sathyam” in 1653 was a turning point. It emphasized the need for Catechism and Scriptural studies. During the period 1765-1808, the study of sacraments and prayers were also included in the lessons. This was the beginning of the Sunday school in the Church. The Sunday School Samajam started functioning in 1931 with the appointment of Puthencavu Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos as its President and Fr. K. David as the General Secretary. On 15 October 1964 it was rejuvenated to receive its present form as “Orthodox Sunday School Association of the East” (OSSAE). This spiritual organization is functioning in all the parishes of the church throughout the world. It takes care of the spiritual nurturing of the children by bringing them up in the knowledge and fellowship of Jesus Christ and His Church.
The classes are conducted in Malayalam for the children in Kerala and for others in English. It has a separate wing for the outer Kerala region, which is called as OSSAE-OKR.
The classes range from Pre-primary classes to the 12th class. As in secular schools, class ten concludes the secondary level and a certificate is awarded -Sunday School final Certificate (SSFC) to the successful candidates. Higher Secondary course is for another two years.
We follow a curriculum, jointly prepared and published by the Oriental Orthodox Churches which is revised from time to time.
PATRON: His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, Catholicos and the Malankara Metropolitan
PRESIDENT: H. G. Alexios Mar Eusebius
DIRECTOR GENERAL: Rev. Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurien
Office Bearers of OSSAE-OKR
PRESIDENT: H. G. Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios
DIRECTOR: Rev. Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip
Sunday School in the Delhi Diocese
The Sunday school in Delhi Diocese was started in late 60s and is affiliated to the OSSAE (Orthodox Syrian Sunday School Association of East). It started in the area of R K Puram, New Delhi with two teachers and four or five students. Classes were conducted in the house of an Air Force Officer in Sect-2, R K Puram. Later this was shifted to St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hauz Khas in 1968-69.
There are Thirteen Sunday schools in Delhi and NCR and Nineteen active/partially active Sunday schools in UP, Punjab and Rajasthan areas.
Our mission is to enhance the spiritual growth of the new generation by teaching the Holy Bible and other religious lessons to the children of the parish.
Office Bearers of OSSAE-OKR Delhi
PRESIDENT: H. G. Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios, Metropolitan
|Rev. Fr. Sibu Thomas||Vice President|
|Mr. K.K. Babu||Director||9811541654|
|Mr. Jose P.T.||Treasurer||9868168300|
|Mr. T.V. Joshua||Auditor||9312268566|
|Mrs. Smitha Varghese||NCR- South East|
|Mrs. Lizy Panicker||NCR- West|
|Mr. Sabu George||NCR- East|
|Mr. Cijo Wilson||Punjab and Haryana|
|Mr. Anto Jacob||Rajasthan|
|Mr. Joseph Kuruvilla||U.P. – North|
|Mrs. Jiji Joseph||U.P. – South|
|Mrs. Mariamma Thomas||NCR- South East|
|Mrs. Sindhu Saju||NCR- West|
|Mr. Abraham Thomas||NCR- East|
|Dr. Nancy George||Punjab and Haryana|
|Mrs. Nidhi Deepu||Rajasthan|
|Mrs. Anita Jacob||U.P. – North|
|Mrs. Susan Jaison||U.P. – South|
Thought for the Month
The Silver Lining in the Cloud
“Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those
that tell of saddest thought.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to a Skylark
As we anxiously labour under the cloud of COVID-19, we wonder when this virus will be eradicated, and what precisely is God’s intend in all this. And with the infection showing no signs of abatement, the situation becomes a fertile ground for all kinds of doomsday predictions. Amidst all this, when we raise our eyes to God for answers, we are reminded that there are no accidents with God; in fact, for those who trust and have faith in Him, all things work for good. As St. Paul writes,” We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Therefore, we have faith that God’s purpose which we cannot understand is working even in the midst of this viral infection to bring about a transformed heaven and a transformed earth. So, we ask ourselves the question: can any good come out of all this? For those with an abiding trust in God’s love, the response will surely be a categorical “Yes”! And so, while the cloud still hovers over us, we look for the proverbial silver lining that points to God continuing to work in these troubled times. Let us look at some of them.
- A Closer Walk with God: At no other point in the liturgical calendar of the Church is there the awareness of God’s proximity than during the Lent. The fast, the selected readings from the Holy Scriptures, the special services and meditations, all create in us an experience that we are walking closer with God. In fact, for some members the Lent is like a spiritual dry cell, for they appear to store up a divine energy, for we never see them in the Church for the rest of the year! The viral infection has only intensified this experience, for we are at one stroke impressed with our mortality and sense that God alone can remove this sickness, a theme that is reiterated in the hymns and prayers of this period. Burdened as we are with a deep sense of helplessness, we have now turned to God with the conviction that He alone can save us from this situation. It is true that we have been deprived of our freedom to worship God in our churches. But that too deeply impresses upon us what we took for granted, that the joy of our Christian fellowship that follows our corporate worship on Sundays is also a gift from God. All this has only made profound our prayers as we raise up our feeble hands to God for salvation, not only from this virus, but also from the disease of sin. Yes, our prayers become more poignant because we now pray with a conviction that God alone can save us from our dreadful situation. Now in the confines of our homes and out of sight of others, we now raise our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1) to God, in a way finding truth in the promise of Christ that when we pray in secret, our heavenly Father will see us in secret and reward our prayers (St Mt 6:6). In a way, the loss of public worship in our churches has been ameliorated by a deep personal proximity to God, an experience we would not have attained without the presence of this virus. Truly, our sense that our entire being is being permeated by the love and presence of God is a blessed outcome of our predicament.
- Retrieving the Tradition of Family Prayers: But that is not all! What about a tradition that all but disappeared from our homes, what with its fast-changing social mores. For once the veracity of the old adage, that a family that prays together, stays together is driven home with a strong conviction. The deprivation of church services now serves to bring the family together around the feet of God and there as a family we begin to renew a closeness that was rarely seen before. The family is truly the undergirding unit of the parish, the place where God is first experienced, where prayer life is taught and a new generation finds its roots in God and the Church. Devoid of this foundational spiritual bedrock, our young men and women become easy prey to new-found spiritual groups who teach instant spirituality. Now that tradition that had been consigned to oblivion has once more become a feature our family life as they gather together to pray, or even just to view the services on the YouTube. Somewhere in that process I am sure the family will find the chance to pray together. Perhaps, this enforced quarantine will have the salutary consequence of retrieving the tradition of family prayers so that it will become a perduring feature of our families.
An observation that will be made is that most of these services are in Malayalam and so remain unintelligible to many of our young men and women. Allow me to share my experience. I too grew up with little knowledge of my mother tongue. But that was not an impediment for my participation in the family prayers in my grandparents’ home. Even though I couldn’t understand them, the deep sense of being in prayer was always present. And I learned most of these prayers by heart as a result of these daily prayers. Today, they have become meaningful, as they are a rich source of my own prayer life. That, too, I pray will result from this coerced family prayer meetings. And it is when families experience difficulties that they draw closer together, a bond that will preserve their unity and cohesiveness well into the future.
- Regaining the Joy of Family Communications: Surely, there will come a time during this period when we tire of staring at the TV or being engaged with our handsets. And so, we will be forced to engage in talk with family members. Family members talking to each other is another casualty of our communication technological explosion. The paradox is that even as we spend more time in talking to friends and being engaged on social media sites, we rarely talk to family members, even at home. Now out of necessity we indulge in talking to one another. As the days pass, our conversation progresses from small talk to sharing our life stories, so that the bonds that keep a family together are strengthened. Fathers are able to spend quality time with their children and it is my hope that husbands and wives will also talk to each other. In fact, I hope that family members will put aside their handsets so that they can all come together to spend time in talking and sharing their life experiences.
One certain outcome of this lockdown is that families are compelled to have meals together. This used to be a welcome part of growing up in a family. But with the fractured life we lead, families are not always able to come together for meals. Now for a change all come together to share meals as a family. And the experience of sharing a meal as a family now become once more a happy occasion for all to talk and laugh over a good and delicious meal. Our nostalgic recollections should include such reminiscences of the family in later times, so that they can bring a wistful smile of delight to our faces.
- Managing with What We Have: The virtual curfew imposed all over the country has disrupted supply channels so that we have had to curtail our consumption to what is necessary or essential. Because we cannot avail of all what we wish for we are learning to manage with what is essential. What is prepared at home is carefully done so that we have cut down the waste. I recall my childhood days when every part of a pumpkin was served as some dish or other, without diminishing its taste. And there was little to waste, considering the food chain that was a regular feature of our homes in Kerala. Here in the NCR a whole new generation has grown up experiencing a life-style that minimises sacrifice and sharing. Most families enjoy a comfortable financial situation here in the NCR (this can be contested, but I offer this as a relative statement) which allows for a wider range of spending by the upcoming generation. In our changed circumstances there are the demands now for a changed pattern of living which places limits on what is spent, the food eaten and so forth. If nothing else, this upcoming generation will learn that controlling consumption is a virtue that needs to be cultivated. It is also a valuable experience for parents to impose some control, all aimed at enabling the family to become a happy, enriching and valuable learning experience for all.
- Sharing What We Have: The fasts of the Lenten season are not meant to be a goal in Itself, but an exercise in sharing what we have. Thus, the money saved by abstaining from food is to be collected and donated for the relief of those who are financially disadvantaged. Thereby, we learn the art of sacrificing and sharing what we have with others. This is an important lesson of the Lenten season. The onus is on the believer to find out those in need and to share a part of what God has given us with others. We live in a context where our unlimited consumption creates no compunctions in us. At least for a time, the sense that we have extravagantly utilised our assets should compel us to evaluate our life-style and see where we can sacrifice and share our assets with others. We should recall the observation of St. Paul, “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus , for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to giver than to receive’ (Acts 20.35).”
If at the end of all this lockdown we could all so benefit from our difficulties, would that not be a welcome experience? Then, we could surely share the sentiments of Shelley which appears at the beginning of this article. Let us pray that this period will be a time of healing and learning to see the silver lining in the cloud of COVID-19.
Met. Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios